Puerto Rico: Micro-Independence to Break the Status Stalemate

Español For decades, Puerto Rico’s political parties have been strictly divided along island status lines. The Popular Democratic Party (PDP), currently in power, favors maintaining the island’s current commonwealth status. The New Progressive Party (NPP) endorses the idea of statehood, and even though they lost the election, they did win a plebiscite showing a majority on the island in favor of a change in political status. The Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP), as the name suggests, advocates for independence.

This divide has permeated every aspect of local politics. The constant battle for power often focuses on which party promises the most stuff, in addition to which status they endorse.

The deadlock, which has lasted since the creation of the commonwealth in the 1950s, has also led to some crazy proposals. For years, the pro-statehood party claimed that Puerto Rico could maintain its own Olympics team under statehood, while the commonwealth party promised an “enhanced” commonwealth with the authority to veto any legislation passed by the US Congress while still being under the US flag and US citizens, but with a free-associated state status.

Meanwhile, the Independence Party has focused primarily on protesting everything, while not really doing anything to actually obtain independence.

At this point, though, there should be no doubt that Puerto Rico is undergoing a serious demographic change. An extended economic depression on the island has caused thousands of middle-class professionals to leave Puerto Rico in search of better employment — or just plain employment. Local taxes are rising, alongside exemptions for new residents who qualify as investors, but the impact is yet to be determined.

It’s time to break the stalemate and give all Puerto Ricans the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations.

In order to do this, it will be necessary to shuffle the cards a bit, or split the difference. That is to say, divide Puerto Rico into two parts, and allow residents to move to one side or the other, depending on which “state” they prefer to live in.

While the Puerto Rico Independence Party has traditionally had about 100,000 voters, the NPP and PDP each have had around a million voters in the last few elections. However, within the PDP, there is a significant and growing “sovereignty” movement. They don’t necessarily favor independence, rather a slightly different version of commonwealth status resembling the Free Associated State rules of the Marshall Islands.

By uniting these two groups who favor separation from the United States in one form or another on one side of the island, and pro-American PDP members along with pro-statehood NPP members on the other, it would allow one half of the island to become independent and the other half to become a state. This form of “micro-independence” would at last break the stalemate.

It would also answer another question: what happens if Puerto Rico does become a state and the US economy collapses? Such a collapse, which many fear will happen in the next few years, would likely turn many people away from their traditional pro-US stance toward supporting some version of independence. Then what? Secession?

Even if the portion that becomes an independent “micro-nation” is only a handful of the island’s 78 municipalities, it would still allow those who truly support independence to achieve their stated goal, while allowing others to reach theirs. The idea of allowing independence supporters to retain a small portion of the island is not new. It’s been proposed multiple times by multiple people, including myself in the past. Yet so far, the Puerto Rico Independence Party has steadfastly — and curiously — refused to take the idea seriously.

If nothing else, the Popular Democratic Party should begin working on a real proposal for a Free Associated State following the Marshall Island’s example and endorse the plan for half of the island. There are solutions to the Puerto Rico status question, but it will take political courage to carry them out.

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